A new job creation program from the United Way and WorkBC that is being piloted in the Ashcroft/Cache Creek/Clinton area offers eligible homeowners an opportunity to have their property assessed for fire mitigation, and up to 40 qualifying properties will be “fire smarted” by a team of volunteers.
“It’s a pretty thorough assessment,” says Karen Nyce, the area’s Fire Mitigation Project supervisor for United Way Thompson Nicola Cariboo. It is directed specifically towards seniors and community members facing mobility and/or mental health barriers who have difficulty, or are unable to complete the activities themselves.
Nyce explains that qualifying homeowners who would like their property assessed for fire hazards can call her office and ask for a free assessment. Community members can also call and ask for an assessment on behalf of someone else who may not be able to do it themselves.
A trained crew will do a formal assessment of the property to identify areas of risk. Nyce explains that they work from the home (Zone 1) outwards, and will cover 11 different categories in three zones, covering everything from the materials used to build the house to the location and type of vegetation on the property.
When the assessment is complete, homeowners will receive a copy of it and see what the recommendations are. They will also receive a package with emergency preparedness information, more information about what to do to safeguard the property, a list of plants that are fire resistant, and resources regarding dealing with stress and mental health.
Ashcroft resident Dale Henderson saw a flyer about the program while doing volunteer work for The Equality Project, and contacted Nyce. “I thought ‘That’s great,’” she says. “I’ve only been in Ashcroft for a year-and-a-half, and in B.C. for three years, so FireSmart wasn’t something I was familiar with.”
Firesmarting your property means taking steps to reduce the potential impacts of wildfires, and providing a better opportunity for firefighters to defend your home if necessary. There are a number of simple steps that homeowners can take to Fire Smart their homes, from simple yard and house maintenance activities (such as clearing dead leaves from gutters, raking up deadfall from hedges, and moving woodpiles away from the house) to choosing less flammable trees and shrubs in their landscaping, and trimming or removing trees and shrubs that are too close to buildings or which are fire hazards.
Nyce says that some property owners, such as seniors or those with mobility issues, might have trouble doing this work themselves. The project volunteers will therefore be doing free mitigation work on up to 40 high-risk properties where the owners are unable to do the work themselves: 14 in Ashcroft, and 13 each in Cache Creek and Clinton.
The mitigation could include such simple things as removing leaves from gutters, moving wood piles and flammable material away from homes, and pruning trees and shrubs, but could also mean cutting down trees of up to six inches in diameter. The crew will also provide recommendations and information on how to have other mitigation steps — such as large tree removal or roof replacement — done.
In order to determine which properties will be mitigated, Nyce says they use a score sheet developed by FireSmart. “We do things like look at roof materials, what the house is surrounded by, what sort of trees are on the property, dead leaves, wood piles, what can catch fire.” She adds that the assessors don’t need to go inside the house; they only need to see the exterior of the house and the property surrounding it.
The team of mitigators — dubbed the “Ash Cache Clint Fire Mitigation Team 2018” — working with Nyce are people who have certifications and are ticketed in Chainsaw Safety Level 1, WHMIS, Bear Aware, and Ladder Safety. The goal is for team members to achieve skills, certifications, and experience, and ultimately move on to full-time employment, so some turnover in team members is to be expected over the course of the program, and Nyce says it is actually encouraged.
Henderson says she had a woodpile near her house and realized it was a fire hazard, but as a senior and on her own she was overwhelmed at the thought of having to move it herself. “The crew was there right away to move it and do other stuff,” she says. “They do a wonderful job. And they were full of information and ideas on how to make my property firesmart.”
Nyce says that 20 assessments and 10 mitigations have already been completed, and that the project is set to wrap up in early May. As some of the properties needing mitigation are quite large, Nyce says that part of what they hope to do is organize work bees of local volunteers to help out. “These big properties need extra workers.”
There are quite a few assessments left to do, and Nyce says they are still looking for applicants. “We’ve reached out and spread the word, and are looking for people to make recommendations [about properties that should be assessed].”
She adds that while they might not hit the target of 40 mitigations, they want to ensure that each assessment is thorough. “That’s more important than hitting the target.”
Henderson wants to encourage everyone to at least give Nyce a call to see if they can be given a hand in making their property firesmart. “People should be taking advantage of this service, because we live in a fire zone. Live prepared, not scared.”
For more information about the Fire Mitigation Project, or to see if you or someone else is eligible for the program, contact Nyce at (250) 279-0672 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also drop in to the team’s office at 310A Railway Avenue in Ashcroft for more information or to meet the team members.
For more information about firesmarting your property, go to www.firesmartcanada.ca/.